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6 things we learned from the Denver Broncos 20-13 team victory over the Miami Dolphins

Broncos defense and running game carry the day.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Denver Broncos
Tua had his worst game as a Dolphin.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Before the game I said it wouldn’t be impossible to upset the Dolphins. The way the Broncos did it looked just as I’d imagined: dominating defense and a strong running game with minimal issues passing the ball. It was a good win to remind Broncos’ Country this roster ain’t half bad.

Here’s what we learned.

Tua Tagovailoa gave way to Ryan Fitzpatrick

The biggest story coming out of this game nationally is going to be what happened to the 5th overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft. A few weeks ago the Dolphins benched a hot Fitzpatrick for their rookie quarterback and Tagovailoa hasn’t thrown a pick yet this year. He almost did in the first quarter, threw for less than 100 yards, ate five sacks, and finally found the pine in the 4th quarter. CBS’ Trent Green said it had to do with performance as well as injury.

Justin Simmons should have had two picks.

Simmons has been the best defensive player on the Broncos all season and it continued today. Right after Drew Lock’s interception, Simmons did his part to stop the bleeding.

Late in the game he had another opportunity. Fitzpatrick moved the ball at will to get the Dolphins on the door step. Miami needed a touchdown and a two point conversion to win the game, so on third and eight they took a shot into the endzone. This time Simmons wasn’t robbed.

O.J. sat out on defense. A.J. didn’t.

One of the things I was looking for in this game is if Vic Fangio would continue to keep his 3rd round corner on the bench. Last week he said it came down to matchups, which made a little sense. Bryce Callahan has the kind of quicks to deal with Henry Ruggs and Nelson Agholor and the Broncos were reportedly very high on Essang Bassey. This week Bassey split time with Alijiah Holder while Michael Ojemudia continued to ride the pine.

Making the rookie accountable for poor play is all well and good. While O.J. has had some promising moments, he’s also given up some huge plays. What confuses me is why A.J. Bouye’s free from criticism, I’ve even seen some praise his play. He’s been bad since his return from injury, and in recent weeks opposing quarterbacks have routinely gone after him. It happened again today.

Chubb and Reed camped in the backfield most the day.

From the first snap of the game it was clear Bradley Chubb would cause issues for the Dolphins. He beat rookie Austin Jackson like a drum on first and 10 only to watch Tua Tagovailoa dodge him like a wrench. With a rookie quarterback and a shaky offensive line, I expected the Broncos to find ways to to pressure the quarterback. I wasn’t disappointed.

Fangio’s done a good job with stunts and blitzes to help his pass rushers get free this year. Games work to create missed assignments or favorable matchups, which helps when someone like Von Miller is injured. Today it worked to completely ruin Jesse Davis’ day.

The edge play forced Miami to turn to more spread looks and quick passing game to try and help Tua get the ball out of his hands quickly. Broncos fans are familiar with how that goes when a young quarterback is forced into long yardage, of course.

The Broncos are quite good when they run to the right.

It helped that the Miami Dolphins’ run defense was pretty shaky, but Shurmur didn’t forget about their best runner today. Phillip Lindsay doubled his carry total in the early third quarter.

Worth noting: the Broncos running game is best aimed at the right tackle and end. They came into the Dolphins game among the 10 best teams in Adjusted Line Yards in both directions, while they were 22nd or worse everywhere else.

With that in mind, it wasn’t at all surprising Phillip Lindsay ripped off big gains with Garett Bolles or Dalton Risner pulling to the right for him.

It also wasn’t surprising Pat Shurmur turned to Melvin Gordon on the 4th and 1 call in the third quarter. Right or wrong, the Broncos coaching staff believes Gordon is the better all around back. This is why you see him when the score or distance turns downs into “must-pass” situations. His size and contact balance is also why you’ll see 25 on short yardage. I personally thought it was a mistake today because there was so much success going right and Lloyd Cushenberry continues to struggle inside.

To his credit, Shurmur seemed to learn from the error. On the Broncos’ second touchdown drive of the day they ran the ball 5 different times. All but one carry went to the right, and they leaned hard on a lead blocking pulling across the formation.

Locked in?

There are 56 QBs who made their 10-16th starts in 2011-2020. Lock came into today with the 42nd passer rating among them. If you’ve been wondering why Allen’s been held up as the beacon of patience, that’s why. He’s the paser who’s looked worse than Lock to develop. The other players behind Lock? Zach Mettenberger, Sam Darnold, C.J. Beathard, T.J. Yates, Terrell Pryor, Tim Tebow, Josh Allen, Blake Bortles, Brandon Weeden, Blaine Gabbert, Josh Rosen, Geno Smith, John Skelton, and Deshone Kizer.

The game started out just as the Vegas game ended when Lock threw his fifth interceptions in 38 passes on the Broncos’ first possession.

The pick was the only completion Lock had in his first six attempts, which led the Broncos to a very long 3rd and 15. A strike to Hamler converted the sticks and helped keep the offense alive. Phillip Lindsay followed it up with a big run before back to back false starts forced Lock back into passing downs. He scrambled for a first before finding Nick Vannett to give Melvin Gordon an easy touchdown.

The rest of Lock’s first half bounced between his typical misses, some layup throws, and a couple nice strikes. The best of them had to be the throw to Jeudy after the 2-minute warning. Lock hung in the pocket, slid to buy time, and found his open receiver. The drive stalled out when the Broncos ran Gordon on 3rd and 9 to settle for a field goal. Lock waked into the locker room having completed nine of 19 attempts for 118 yards, no touchdowns, no sacks, and an interception.

In the second half the Broncos leaned hard on their rushing game, which helped Lock do the things he does best. Pat Shurmur dialed up play action rollouts and a heavy dose of quick passing. I really liked the 3rd and 2 play call from the Broncos’ touchdown drive in the third quarter.

With 6 minutes left in the 4th quarter Lock took over with the Broncos leading 20-13. Pat Shurmur played ball control and his quarterback rewarded him with a rollout completion to Noah Fant for 29. Denver goes with a 50-50 run pass split on their drive to 1 with Lock’s other two pass plays leading to a 9-yard scramble and a penalty. Lindsay and Gordon carry the ball three times for 27 yards. The drive ends in ruin. It’s worth mentioning that Phillip Lindsay still hasn’t fumbled in his NFL career.

Following Justin Simmons’ game winning interception the Broncos had to kill a minute or so to hold onto a 20-13 lead. As expected, Shurmur leaned on his running game to make sure the clock died and it wasn’t a surprise to see the Dolphins were ready for it. The sequence led to a 4th and 14 where Lock found Tim Patrick for 61-yards(!) He finished the game 18/30 for 270 yards, no touchdowns, and the first drive interception.